Hazardous Substances and New Organisms Act 1996

The purpose of this Act is to protect the environment, and the health and safety of people and communities by preventing or managing the adverse effects of hazardous substances and new organisms.

Full text

Hazardous Substances and New Organisms Act 1996 [New Zealand Legislation website]

About the Act

The passing of New Zealand’s Hazardous Substances and New Organisms Act (HSNO Act) in June 1996 represented one of the most significant reforms of environmental legislation since the Resource Management Act. The Act came into force in two stages. Provisions relating to new organisms took effect in July 1998 and the provisions relating to hazardous substances came into force on 2 July 2001.

The Act established the Environmental Risk Management Authority (ERMA New Zealand) to assess and decide on applications to introduce hazardous substances or new organisms into New Zealand. This includes genetic modification of plants, animals and other living things in New Zealand. In July 2011, ERMA became the Environmental Protection Authority (EPA). For more information visit the EPA website.

In 2003, the laws governing new organisms, including genetically modified organisms (GMOs) were amended in line with the Government’s overall policy of proceeding with caution with genetic modification while preserving opportunities. These laws came into force on 30 October 2003.

Regulations under the Act

There are 22 regulations under this Act covering a broad scope of controls including:

  • fireworks and other explosive controls
  • the management, disposal, classification, packaging and transport of hazardous substances and new organisms.


A number of the regulations were revoked on 1 December 2017. Some parts of the revoked regulations still apply to HSNO approvals approved before 1 December 2017 and will continue to apply until those approvals have been legally re-issued.

However on 1 December 2017 some parts of these HSNO regulations (workplaces controls to protect people) were replaced by the Health and Safety at Work (Hazardous Substances) Regulations 2017. As such, people do not need to comply with any HSNO controls that have been replaced by the new Health and Safety at Work (Hazardous Substances) Regulations - they need to comply with the Health and Safety at Work (Hazardous Substances) Regulations instead immediately.

For compliance requirements for substances approved after 1 December 2017 and substances managed under a group standard see When do I need to comply [PDF, 11.03 KB] on the EPA website.

How this Act relates to other Acts

How the Hazardous Substances and New Organisms Act works alongside other legislation to protect New Zealand from the negative impacts of hazardous substances and new organisms.

Biosecurity Act 1993

As well as managing the risks to the health and welfare of New Zealand’s plants and animals, the Biosecurity Act protects New Zealand from unwanted pests and harmful organisms by imposing controls on the import of plants, foodstuffs and animals. The Ministry of Primary Industries administers it.

The Biosecurity Act utilises border controls to prevent unwanted organisms entering New Zealand and pest management strategies to manage unwanted organisms already present.

The Biosecurity Act is used to approve and monitor the facilities that meet the Environmental Protection Authority’s (EPA’s) approval requirements. It contains the power to approve and monitor specific facilities for containing organisms (eg, for quarantine). The Biosecurity Act does not cover genetic engineering. Assessing and approving all genetically modified organisms in New Zealand is done under the Hazardous Substances and New Organisms Act.

Biosecurity Act 1993 [New Zealand Legislation website]

Food Act 2014

The Food Act seeks to ensure that all food sold in New Zealand, whether imported or locally produced, is safe and suitable for consumption. Food must be labelled as genetically modified if it contains DNA or protein from a genetically modified (GM) source. The Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI) administers the Act.

The HSNO Act overlaps with the Food Act because food can expose people to the toxic effects of hazardous substances used as a pesticide or a food additive.

Food additives are covered by the HSNO Act and require approval. Ready-to-eat food is not covered by the HSNO Act.

MPI is the statutory body responsible for setting limits for hazardous substances when those substances are used in food.

For further information see Food safety [MPI website]

Agricultural Compounds and Veterinary Medicines Act 1997

The Agricultural Compounds and Veterinary Medicines Act 1997 (ACVM Act) aims to prevent or manage risks associated with the use of agricultural compounds such as risks to trade in primary produce, risks to animal welfare and risks to agricultural security. The Act also seeks to ensure that domestic food residue standards are not breached and sufficient consumer information about agricultural compounds is available. The Ministry of Primary Industries administers the Act.

The ACVM Act overlaps with the HSNO Act because a number of the compounds used in agriculture (such as pesticides) are also hazardous substances.

Agricultural Compounds and Veterinary Medicines Act 1997 [New Zealand Legislation website]

Gas Act 1992

The safe use of fuel gases in systems such as town gas reticulation is controlled under the Gas Act 1992 which is administered by the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIE).

There is an overlap of interest with hazardous substances legislation because these fuel gases are flammable and may also have toxic properties. The HSNO Act provides performance requirements to limit the likelihood of harmful effects from these properties.

The HSNO Act also allows for the EPA and MBIE to consult on gas regulations. MBIE is the regulatory authority responsible for setting controls on fuel gases when used as specified under the Gas Act.

Gas Act 1992 [New Zealand Legislation website]

Health and Safety at Work Act 2015

The purpose of the Health and Safety at Work Act (HSW Act) is to ‘provide for a balanced framework to secure the health and safety of workers and workplaces’. It obliges people who have a role in a workplace to prevent harm from hazards, which include hazardous substances.

All hazardous substances in the workplace must be managed in accordance with both the HSW and HSNO Acts.

To find out more about the HSW Act see the HSW Legislation [WorkSafe website].

Health and Safety at Work Act 2015 [New Zealand Legislation website]

Medicines Act 1981

The safe use of substances as medicines is controlled under the Medicines Act administered by the Ministry of Health. There is an overlap of interest with the HSNO Act because some medicines are also hazardous substances.

Regulations under the HSNO Act apply to the safe transport and storage of medicines in their bulk form. The Medicines Act controls medicines in their finished-dose form. The Ministry of Health advises the EPA of approvals issued and controls imposed under the Medicines Act.

Medicines Act 1981 [New Zealand Legislation website]

Building Act 2004 and regulations

The Building Act provides controls to ensure that buildings are structurally safe, while the HSNO Act sets controls to ensure that specialised containers and buildings can safely contain the hazardous substances (eg, explosives magazines and bulk petroleum storage tanks) that they are designed to hold.

Building Act 2004 [New Zealand Legislation website]

Ozone Layer Protection Act 1996

This Ozone Layer Protection Act regulates the phasing out of ozone depleting substances. Other hazardous aspects of the chemicals are still controlled under the HSNO Act.

Ozone Layer Protection Act 1996 [New Zealand Legislation website]

The Imports and Exports (Restrictions) Prohibition Order (No 2) 2004

New Zealand is a party to several multilateral agreements relating to the import and export of hazardous waste such as the Basel Convention. A permit under the Prohibition Order must be obtained from the EPA before hazardous waste can be imported to, or exported from, New Zealand.

For more information see Shipping hazardous waste [EPA website].

Transport legislation

Transport legislation helps ensure New Zealand’s air, sea and land transport systems operate safely. This legislation includes the Land Transport Act 1998, the Land Transport Rules, the Maritime Safety Rules and the Civil Aviation Rules.

Transport legislation requires that:

hazardous substances are contained or packaged to withstand the conditions of transport (eg, loads imposed by a ship rolling at sea or the reduced pressure in an aircraft flying at altitude) and are identified so that they can be correctly managed in transport
operators know about and comply with the appropriate requirements of the HSNO Act (demonstrated by hazardous substances endorsements on drivers' licenses).
The HSNO Act requires the following.

Vehicle safety requirements specific to a hazardous substance (such as corrosion resistance of an acid tank mounted on a truck).
Identification of standards to be set for hazardous substances based on standard international transport labelling and marking requirements. These standards supplement the identification requirements contained in transport legislation.
It also specifies the performance required of hazardous substances packaging. These performance requirements are derived from the United Nations Recommendations for the Transport of Dangerous Goods, and meet land transport requirements. However, air and sea transport require additional precautions as noted above. Stricter regulations also apply to these forms of transport under the Maritime Transport Act 1994 and the Civil Aviation Act 1990.

Land Transport Act 1998 [New Zealand Legislation website]